Volume: By exploring the concepts of empty and full, children learn that flour takes up space, which is volume. To explore the concepts of empty and full further have children measure water and other ingredients using measuring cups and spoons. Help children see that 1 cup of flour (a solid) takes up the same space as 1 cup of water (a liquid).
Measurement: Measuring cups and spoons are tools for determining precise amounts of materials—in this case ingredients for baking bread. Using these tools, children can measure specific amounts of ingredients as called for in the recipe. Children can make their own measuring tools by using standard measuring cups and spoons as a guide. For instance, they could fill a beaker with 1 cup of water and then place a piece of tape at the one cup level, and use this as their measure.
Leveling the flour: Leveling teaches children how to get an exact measure. The best way to do this is to fill the cup with more flour than needed and then use a straight edge to “level” the flour in line with the cup’s edges.
Other things to do: To teach counting, make picture-based recipe cards and then number the steps and count out loud while adding the ingredients. To teach one-to-one correspondence, slice and serve the same number of pieces of baked bread as there are chefs.
Social skills: By taking turns, children learn to respect the rights of others as well as classroom materials. Eating the finished product introduces good manners, such as passing food, waiting until everyone is served before eating, not eating and talking at the same time, and the like. Start a conversation about how cultures are similar and how they are different. People in most cultures eat some kind of bread.
Sense of competence and self-esteem: What can make a chef more proud than eating the fruits of his labors? Sharing it with classmates leads to meaningful, positive feedback from others—which always feels good.
Health, Nutrition, and Safety
Safety precautions: Children should never use electrical appliances on their own. The teacher should put the bread into the heated oven and take it out. Using potholders, children can take the hot tray of bread to the work table.
Incorporating health and nutrition: Talk about the nutritional value of the ingredients and the finished bread. The whole wheat flour contains many vitamins and fiber that are healthy for growing bodies. Preschoolers need seven servings of bread and grains a day, so having whole wheat bread for snack and lunch is a healthy practice.
Adding wet to dry: Children can see that the consistency of the combined ingredients is somewhere between wet and dry. If more wet than dry substances are combined, the mixture will be on the wet side. The opposite holds true if more dry than wet ingredients are mixed. As dough bakes, it changes from a raw state to a cooked one.
Kneading and punching down the dough: As dough is kneaded, it gets shiny and rubberlike. When it is punched down, the volume decreases. The yeast that is added to dough is what makes it expand. It lets out a gas that makes the bread batter grow in size. To show that dough needs to be in a warm place to rise, try putting covered bowls of bread batter in warm and cool places in the classroom. Wait a half hour. Then check the bowls. Batter in warm places should have doubled in size. Batter in cool places will be its original size.
New vocabulary: Possible new words include whole wheat, kneading, proof, yeast, sift, level.
Books: Some related children’s books include Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, Bread, Bread, Bread by Ann Morris, Mr. Belinsky’s Bagels by Ellen Schwartz, Jalapeño Bagels by Natasha Wing, and Bruno the Baker by Lars Klinting. For recipes and ideas about cooking with preschoolers, see NAEYC’s The Cooking Book: Fostering Young Children’s Learning and Delight by Laura J. Colker.
Incorporating reading and writing: Using index cards, break down the steps in a recipe, one step per card. Illustrate each step and include as few words as possible. Children can follow the recipe cards in sequence until the recipe is complete. By “reading” the cards the children are learning about print, how to decode its meaning, and how pictures relate to text.
Extending the Learning
Documentation: Teachers might take photos such as the ones shown here and post them on the bulletin board, create a class journal, or download them into a PowerPoint presentation to share with families. The children could dictate a story to their teacher about the experience and revisit the experience through dramatic play.
Activities: A field trip to a bakery would give children an opportunity to compare and contrast how bread is made for commercial use.
Families: Before the activity, ask families to share their favorite recipe. Also ask parents to help make recipe cards. When using a family recipe, invite the parent who shared it to introduce the recipe and to assist small groups of children in baking bread. If the recipe is a success, share it in a newsletter or e-mail so families can bake at home with their child. Be sure to include some photos of the children baking and enjoying the bread. Homemade bread is always a treat for families who often don’t take the time to make this staple.